Minimalism and Feminism: Breaking Free of the Lie Consumerism Sells Women

Empowerment is not for sale. Liberation is not for sale. These statements are true whether you are a man or woman, but are especially true if you are a woman.

Feminism teaches us to examine our own assumptions about the rightful place and role of women in society. It gives us a lens through which we can examine and evaluate our own ingrained cultural beliefs and assumptions.

Minimalism teaches us to question consumerism. Somewhere along the line, feminism was highjacked by marketers and consumerism. If women were going to join the workforce and the public sphere, then patriarchal consumerist culture was still going to set very clear rules about what was required of a woman to be “suitable for public consumption.” And corporations were going to make a healthy profit by targeting women’s insecurities and setting the ground rules for “how to be a good woman.”

We have been sold a lie.

The lie is this: in order to be a good woman you must conform to an impossible beauty standard, and in order to meet this standard you must purchase many, many cosmetics, clothing, pills, shoes, surgeries, and other things that you don’t need. Conforming to this standard is the most important thing that you will do as a woman. Without at least trying to conform to the standard (which we will define without your input, thank you very much) you will be categorically dismissed by society. You will be indecent, shameful, worthless, and UNLOVABLE.

If a woman were to “degenerate” into her natural state, what would she even look like? Well, she would have hairy legs and hairy armpits for starters. Her brows would be their natural shape, her hair its natural colour. She wouldn’t wear makeup, and she may not even use moisturizer. Her body would be whatever shape it was naturally, it would not be artificially squeezed into “control top pantyhouse” or Spanx. Her breasts would sit wherever they sit naturally, they wouldn’t propped up by an underwire, pushed together and enlarged by padding or surgery.

She would be a woman with no need to purchase all the products that transform a woman from her natural state to a state that society deems acceptable. This woman would almost certainly be scorned by most of society, because so many of us believe the lie that this natural woman is terrible, unacceptable, disgusting, and undesirable. Desirability is sold to all of us, women and men alike, as the ONLY way to be loved in this world. And who doesn’t want to be loved? The lie has gone even further and told us that women in their natural states, especially once they pass a certain age, are completely worthless and are not suited to being seen in public.

The worst part is that many women, myself included, will say that we are doing it “for ourselves.” We are doing it because we have so completely internalized the incredibly profitable lie that only through expensive and oftentimes painful modifications can our bodies be suitable to be seen in public, let alone desirable enough to earn the approval of others. Our self-esteem has come to rely so heavily on how well we can live this lie that we will do things that are expensive and unnecessary at best, and destructive or fatal at worst, in order to embody the current feminine beauty standard that is being sold by our culture.

How is this lie propagated? How has it become so engrained in our culture that we unquestioningly spend literally thousands of dollars over our lifetimes in order to uphold these preposterous standards?

One word: advertising. Pervasive, all-consuming, inescapable, advertising. Millions, and millions of dollars of it. Advertising shames women for not conforming to the impossible standard set out for them. Sexism, racism, heteronormativity, ageism, ableism, and a host of other prejudices come together to define the standards and enforce them in a myriad of other ways, but they are all sold to us via advertising.

Think about it ladies: if we really needed all these products, would companies need to spend millions of dollars pushing them at us? Would they need to literally invent new beauty concerns and “problem areas?”

We have been sold a lie. There is nothing wrong with our natural, unaltered faces or bodies. Our leg hair is not disgusting, only thinking it makes it so. Our eyelashes do not need to be curled and coated in gunk. There is nothing wrong with us in our natural states. It is just that in our natural states we won’t keep fueling the multi-billion dollar beauty industry.

Minimalism can help.

Minimalism is a tool for overcoming our attachments to things in our lives that do not create real value and that do not make us happy. It is a tool for questioning consumerism, and women DESPERATELY need to question consumerism. We have internalized marketing messages so deeply that for many of us it seems IMPOSSIBLE to live a good, fulfilling life without buying products like: razor blades, shaving cream, anti-wrinkle lotion, diet pills, weight loss books, brow waxes, bikini waxes, makeup, or hair dye.

I am venturing the radical notion that we can in fact live without these things. We can live wonderful, exciting, fulfilling lives without paying to support a lie that makes us feel like shit and that costs us so much more than just our hard-earned dollars.

This will not be easy. Most likely, everyone around you believes the lie. No one wants to believe that their deeply held convictions about who is “attractive” or “sexy” or “beautiful” have been manufactured and sold to them by advertisers in order to pry their hard-earned dollars from their wallets.

Don’t feel bad for having believed the lie. It was sold to us as the role of women was changing rapidly and we were just finding out footing in the public sphere. Collectively we were vulnerable to messages about how to be “good women” in a dangerous and challenging world.

I, for one, am sick of trading my time, my money, and my freedom for products that I don’t need, and to support a system that tells women that we are not good enough.

Let’s dare to dream of a world where all women, and all people, feel like their bodies and their natural appearance is good enough. Let’s stop paying money to have our self-esteem eroded.

What would be the benefits of applying minimalism to our beauty regimes? What would be the benefit of paring down or even eliminating the products we buy and the things we do in order to conform to the impossible standard that advertising sells us?

1) More money.

2) More time.

3) More self-esteem.

4) Our sanity.

5) Our lives.

Do we really need any more reasons?

This is not a how-to seminar. This is a wake up call.

So many of us have forgotten that we have a right to exist in our natural state, that we have a right to dignity and respect that need not be earned through expensive grooming rituals.

We have a right to be, just as we are. Just Darby. Just You. Let’s reclaim that right.


Ten Tips to Walk More

Walking is my favourite mode of transportation. Walking is simple and minimalist: you travel on your own steam, you don’t have to mess around with public transit schedules, worry about getting stuck in traffic, parking or even locking up a bike. Walking is a great way to create solitude, to clear your head, to get some exercise. Not to mention that you think twice about buying things when you have to carry them home yourself!

If you are looking to embrace the joy of walking here are 8 tips to fit more walking into your life. Not all of them will apply, so just try whatever will work for you.

1. Google Maps is your friend. Try mapping out walking routes to places that you normally drive or take transit to. You may be surprised to discover that walking doesn’t take much more time – especially during rush hour!

2. Learn your walking pace. The next time you plan to walk somewhere, find out how far away it is (using Google Maps) and time yourself to see how long it takes you to get there. Time to destination divided by distance equals your pace (in mile or kilometers per hour). Once you know your pace you can more easily estimate how long it will take you to get to certain places, which will make it easier to spontaneously incorporate walking into your life.

3. Stop being such a wuss. If you have ever complained about wanting to lose weight or wanting to save money then please consider taking all the energy it takes to complain and diverting it to walking. Walking is free and it is great low impact exercise. In Toronto it really doesn’t get that cold (having grown up in Calgary, -10 or -15 degrees Celsius is NOT that cold). Embrace winter, throw on a scarf and a toque, and go for a fricking walk.

4. Consider just walking one way. Sometimes I am in a rush to get somewhere after work so I take the subway, but on my way home I can walk. Don’t always think you have to take transit home just because you took it to get somewhere.

5. Redefine what you consider to be a walkable distance. This takes time. For me, any place that I can reach walking in an hour or less is “walkable.” I have worked up to being able to walk that distance and it has given me great stamina. When I go on vacation I can traipse from one tourist attraction to another, no problem!

6. Bring comfortable shoes. Ladies – let’s put our purses to good use! Slip a pair of comfortable flats or walking shoes into your purse. (This is also great to do when you go out for an evening of dancing!) Guys you are probably already wearing comfortable shoes, you lucky bastards.

7. Pack a hat and gloves. Again, if you are carrying a purse (or have a jacket with lots of pockets) try keeping a lightweight toque (or beanie as the Americans would say) and gloves on you all the time. That way you’ll always be ready to face the elements for some spontaneous walking.

8. Blister-proof socks. Enough said.

9. Keep a band-aid or two in your wallet. This has saved me from many blisters! If I feel a blister starting I will pull a band-aid out of my wallet (or purse) and slap it on before the blister inhibits my walking.

10. Use walking as an alternative to public transit transfers. When I leave the office to go to karate I take the subway 6 stops north and then have to make a very stressful transfer to another line just to go 2 stops west. Instead of elbowing my way onto a jam-packed westbound train I just walk the last 6 blocks. So much simpler! (And of course I walk home since I have more time going that direction!) If your daily commute involves transfers, try replacing them with walking. Even if it takes a little longer you will be much less stressed and you’ll get in a little exercise.

So strap on some comfortable shoes and happy walking!

Minimalist Fun: Kata on Kitsilano Beach

I am on vacation in Vancouver and am lucky enough to be staying in beautiful Kitsilano, the neighbourhood that I used to live in. Today I decided to have a little minimalist fun and go for a run in the rain (of course it’s raining – this is Vancouver after all). I decided to push myself a little bit out of my comfort zone and practice my karate kata down by Kitsilano Beach. I’ve been doing karate for about four months now and I really love it. The karate kata are patterns of movements that we practice. I’ve recently learned five new ones and I didn’t want to forget them during my vacation.

So I was out on Kitsilano Beach punching and kicking the air (in a pattern of course) for a good twenty minutes or so. I felt a little self-conscious and sort of hoped that an ex-boyfriend wouldn’t pick that moment to take a walk by the beach. A few people stopped and watched but as it was raining pretty hard no one lingered. I was quite pleased with myself, got in a good workout, and didn’t spend a dime.

After a hot shower I am ready to spend the rest of the day curled up with a good book and the company of my family (and their dog!). It doesn’t get much better than this.

Downsizing for Freedom – Part 1

I’ve officially given notice at our place and my roommate and I are looking for a new (cheaper and smaller) place to move into at the end of November.

I fear lighter already knowing that I’ll have significant savings each month to stash away for future goals.

I also feel a little worried. What if we don’t find something because it’s a weird time of year? What if we can’t find something that is significantly cheaper and I end up living further away from work and still not saving a lot of money?

I am choosing to focus on the positive things:

I am intentionally choosing to live with only what I really need.

A new location will force me to start cycling in Toronto, which will be great exercise and totally cheap transportation.

A smaller place will be a great excuse for not accumulating more stuff. I just won’t have room!

I’m an atheist but I hope the universe will see my good intentions and help me out here. 😉

Embracing Minimalism to Conquer Fear

For a very long time, I have been afraid of not having enough.

Not having enough money to pay my rent.

Not having enough of a “rainy day fund”.

Not having enough time to accomplish my goals.

Not having enough talent to be successful.

Not having enough focus to master a skill.

The list goes on and on.

I have lived a life where I have rarely gone without the things that I *wanted* let alone needed. Even so, I am afraid that if I make the wrong career choices, or if the economy changes, or if my profession is made redundant then I could be plunged into a state of not having enough.

More importantly, since I have been an adult, I have made many important decisions based on these fears of not having enough. I have sacrificed living life on my own terms in order to have “security” – to have a paycheque so that I will have enough money, to have a “good career job” so that I will feel good about myself and so that people I care about will look at me and say “good for Darby, look how successful she is.” I am beholden not only to my job, but to a system that says that I have to work harder in order to consume more so that I can have enough. Except that enough never comes, and the consumption just begets more consumption to stave off my fears of not having enough.

I have decided that I must face these fears of not having enough.

Lately I’ve been reading a lot about simplicity and minimalism on blogs like Zen Habits, mnmlist, The Minimalists, Becoming Minimalist and more. “What is minimalism?” you ask. Great question! Minimalism is the practice of intentionally living with only the things you really need. Alternatively, you could describe minimalism as a process of stripping away clutter and unimportant things in order to focus your energy entirely on the truly essential.

I have concluded that truly knowing what is “enough” is an understanding and a habit that needs to be developed and practiced like any other. I see minimalism as a great tool for stripping away the unnecessary and focusing only on the important. By learning what I can live without and how to appreciate what I have, I hope to conquer all of the fears that I’ve listed and more.

In order to conquer my fears I need to take control of three areas of my life: my finances, my time, and my mind.

I will address each of these areas in later posts. For now I will briefly discuss finances since they seem the easiest place to start.

In terms of having “enough” in a strictly material sense, we all face a simple equation:

$ needed for essentials
$ needed for non-essentials
$ needed (a.k.a. enough)

The tricky part is defining essentials and non-essentials. We live in a world saturated with advertising that seeks to teach us that whatever product they are selling is an essential. Our consumerist culture perpetuates the idea that “the person who dies with the most toys wins.” In the end though, we all die and most of these toys don’t bring us happiness.

I think that some non-essentials can create value and bring joy to my life. Most non-essentials; however, are just clutter. Clutter drains my financial resources because I paid for these items, and now I pay to live in a big condo so I have space for all of them. Clutter also drains my mental resources because I am constantly cleaning these things, caring for them, and worrying about where I’ve put them.

If I take a hard, honest look at my life there are many places where I have internalized media messages about what sorts of things are “essential” and what sort of non-essentials create value. De-programming myself to understand what is truly essential and valuable in my life will not be easy. I am committed to doing it in order to conquer my own fear of not having enough. I will replace the habit of constantly striving for more with the habit of being happy with what I have. I will find a new confidence and contentedness rooted in knowing that I have enough.

I will be writing about my journey. I hope that you will follow along if you feel that my words create value for you.

Old adventures and new adventures

Hello all!

Welcome to my new blog. I am going to blogging about my adventures in work, play, veganism, feminism, minimalism, and of course travel. Here is a brief summary of recent life adventures to date:

4 months volunteering in Gaborone, Botswana

9 months studying and interning in Hong Kong

Became a vegetarian

Masters of Science completed in Oxford, UK (at Oxford Brookes University)

Moved to Vancouver and enjoyed the Olympics

Late 2010:
Moved to Toronto to start an exciting new job

Early 2011:
Became a vegan

Early 2012:
3 week trip to India for a wedding and volunteering

I still have so much more adventuring to do! Over the next couple months I hope to restructure my life in order to travel more, learn more, and have more fun. I want to really push myself to accomplish some of my own unconventional life plans and I hope that I can inspire and help anyone reading to accomplish theirs.

À bientôt mes amis!